“Bond, James Bond.” Only six actors have had the honor of uttering that famous line for the most enduring franchise in movie history, and George Lazenby is one of them. But he’s even more famous for being the one-shot Bond, the man who brashly slipped on the super-spy tuxedo after Sean Connery called it quits, then called it quits himself after only one outing as 007.
After impressing audiences with his performance in ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE and raking in an impressive box-office haul (making close to 10 times its production budget in worldwide grosses), Lazenby head-scratchingly decided not to return to the role that changed his world. His explanations as to why he made such a bold choice have varied over the years, but they ultimately blame bad advice from his agent and his own misdirected ego.
I interviewed Lazenby a couple years ago when I worked for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT, and it was a real thrill to meet the man to get his take on arguably the worst career decision in the history of Hollywood. I’m a huge Bond fan and really think that OHMSS is one of the best Bond films ever made. Getting to hear Lazenby’s side of the story was one of the bucket-list thrills of my career. The man has charisma to spare.
A new documentary about Lazenby’s life and the role that rocked his world, BECOMING BOND, is now playing on HULU, and it’s an impressively engrossing tale. Told by Lazenby himself with re-enacted flashbacks by younger actors, the documentary plays more like a biopic and displays a charming amount of humor, emotion, and bravado — just like the man himself. Amusingly, there are a few times in the film when the interviewer asks Lazenby, “Is this really a true story?” There are lots of tall tales, many involving “birds” and the Australian alpha male’s pursuit of the next conquest, but they’re never prurient — just honest and human. Directed by Josh Greenbaum (who recently directed Daniel Craig in a cute Omaze promo with puppies and an Aston Martin), it’s a fun watch, especially for Bond fans, and I highly recommend it.
Lazenby talked with me about his opportunity to play Bond when I sat down with him before a screening of OHMSS at the Alex Theatre in Glendale, CA in April of 2013 (presented by Glendale Arts and Prospect House Entertainment). The screening was in conjunction with Bond’s Golden Anniversary, celebrating 50 years of the Bond movie franchise.
“My manager was telling me that James Bond was over,” said Lazenby about why he turned down an offer to do six more Bond films and a million-dollar cash bonus. “It was the hippie era, and EASY RIDER was the No. 1 movie, so I was listening to him and thinking he was right. ‘It was Sean Connery’s gig, get out while you can’ — so I never signed a contract.”
A former male model — or “clothes peg” as he puts it — Lazenby added, “I didn’t want to be an actor in the first place.” But reflecting on an early James Bond movie he went to, he revealed just why the role appealed to him: “I was more than a fan; I was envious of [Connery]. I had a date one time — going in I had a 90-percent chance of getting lucky; I think I had about a 21 percent coming out. I thought, ‘Jesus, if I ever get a chance to be that guy, I’m going to be him.’ And then it came along.”
Landing the coveted role of a lifetime amid hundreds who auditioned wasn’t easy for Lazenby, but a serendipitous combination of good fortune and Aussie bravado allowed him to saunter into the 007 casting offices and bluff his way through to get the attention of the producers and OHMSS director Peter Hunt.
“I lied my way in there, saying I’d done movies in Czechoslovakia and China and Russia and places I didn’t think they could check on,” said Lazenby with a glint in his eye. “I never thought I’d get the role; I really didn’t want to be an actor, but I liked the idea of lots of money and lots of girls and the lifestyle [that] James Bond would get me.”
At one point Lazenby felt he was in way over his head and confessed to Hunt that he wasn’t even an actor: “I leveled with him, and he just stared at me for a minute and he just started belly laughing,” recalled Lazenby. “He said, ‘You say you can’t act?! You fooled the two most ruthless [producers] I ever met in my life!’ And he said, ‘Stick to your story, I’ll make you the next James Bond.’
Despite being offered a king’s ransom to follow up OHMSS, Lazenby made that critical mistake of following his agent’s awful advice and then had a lot of trouble landing roles in mainstream movies for years due to being blacklisted as difficult to work with. Connery came back for one last outing as James Bond in 1971’s DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER, then famously said “never again” to the role. But as Bond fans know, he returned for yet one more 007 adventure in 1983 (in the cleverly titled NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN). He was succeeded by Roger Moore, who holds the record for headlining the most Bond films with seven, then Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig. “[Craig] is obviously a good actor, and he plays the role to suit [today’s] audience,” said Lazenby. “It’s much tougher and harder than we were in the ’60s. We had heart and soul. Even though you were a killer, you could still shed a tear over someone dying.”
Watch the video below to find out what Lazenby’s favorite line is from OHMSS, and for his surprising answer regarding whether or not he wished he had another crack at 007: